The Sweetland Writing Center and Department of Chemistry are partnering on a five-year, $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to implement writing-to-learn strategies for science, technology, engineering and mathematics students.

This partnership will work in collaboration with Duke University and the University of Minnesota.

Writing-to-learn is a technique whereby students work through complicated concepts by writing about them, cementing key ideas while simultaneously exposing gaps in understanding.

In previous small-scale studies conducted by the Sweetland and chemistry partners, writing-to-learn strategies have been shown to increase depth of knowledge in S.T.E.M. subjects, as well as improve retention rates of students in those fields.

The NSF grant will allow writing-to-learn strategies to be incorporated into multiple large-enrollment introductory S.T.E.M. courses. This project also will measure the effect of the program on students' comprehension of core scientific principles.

Additionally, the partnership will use grant funds to create and foster a national network of higher education science teachers interested in writing-to-learn techniques.

Sweetland Director Anne Ruggles Gere said she hopes the grant will improve understanding of key concepts and increase retention in science and mathematics-related fields, especially for female students and students of color.

"We know that half of all students who come to U-M or other institutions to study S.T.E.M. subjects end up leaving, and decide to major in something else," says Ginger Shultz, assistant professor and postdoctoral presidential fellow in chemistry. "That's because not everyone learns the same way. We are interested in helping retain students in these programs by expanding opportunities for learning."

The partnership will begin to implement the writing-to-learn program in fall 2016. Sweetland also will host the International Writing Across the Curriculum Conference, a conference focused on writing-to-learn techniques, in June 2016.

"We want to ensure that students in S.T.E.M. become people who really think conceptually," says Gere. "Our students are the leaders and the best — they will go on to become policy makers and decision-makers who will be in the position to influence what happens next in S.T.E.M. research, education, and policy."